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The costs of war: Condolence payments and the politics of killing civilians

  • Thomas Gregory (a1)

Abstract

Coalition forces have spent upwards of $50 million on condolence payments to Afghan and Iraqi civilians. These condolence payments were intended as an expression of sympathy rather than an admission of fault, and the programme itself has been criticised for the arbitrary, inconsistent, and low valuation of civilian lives. Rather than focus on the practical problems associated with condolence payments or normative arguments about whether belligerents ought to compensate those harmed, this article will trace the strategic imperatives that underpinned this programme and shaped its development. As coalition forces began to recognise the strategic costs of civilian casualties, they used a variety of tactics to mitigate the effects of civilian casualties on the success of military operations. This article will argue that condolence payments should not be seen as a humanitarian gesture designed to recognise and respond to the suffering of ordinary civilians, but will argue that condolence payments should be viewed as a weapons system aimed at securing specific military goals. As such, this article will argue that condolence payments continued to objectify and devalue the lives of Afghans and Iraqis by treating them as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: t.gregory@auckland.ac.nz

References

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1 Quoted in Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), ‘Commander's Guide to Money as a Weapons System: Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures’, p. 1, available at: {https://usacac.army.mil/sites/default/files/publications/09-27.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

2 Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), ‘Initial MSF Internal Review: Attack on Kunduz Trauma Centre’, available at: {https://msf.dk/sites/default/files/files/dokumenter/pdf/Internal%20review-MSF-kunduz.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

3 Andrew Buncombe, ‘US Strike on MSF hospital in Afghanistan was result of “human error”, says Pentagon’, The Independent, available at: {https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-strike-on-msf-hospital-in-afghanistan-was-result-of-human-error-says-pentagon-a6748401.html} accessed 25 June 2018.

5 MSF, ‘Initial MSF Internal Review’.

6 United States Central Command (CENTCOM), ‘Summary of the Airstrike on the MSF Trauma Center in Kunduz, Afghanistan on October 3, 2015’, available at: {http://fpp.cc/wp-content/uploads/01.-AR-15-6-Inv-Rpt-Doctors-Without-Borders-3-Oct-15_CLEAR.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

7 Michael Shear and Somini Sengupta, ‘Obama issues rare apology over bombing of Doctors without Borders hospital in Afghanistan’, New York Times, available at: {https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/08/world/asia/obama-apologizes-for-bombing-of-afghanistan-hospital.html} accessed 25 June 2018.

8 President Obama also apologised when soldiers burned copies of the Qur'an and President Bush apologised for the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib. See Rosén, Frederik, Collateral Damage: A Candid History of a Peculiar Form of Death (London: Hurst, 2016). For a discussion about apologies and international politics, see Bentley, Tom, Empires of Remorse: Narrative, Postcolonialism and Apologies for Colonial Atrocity (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017) and Lind, Jennifer, Sorry States: Apologies in International Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008).

9 Quoted in Nick Turse, ‘Blood money: Afghanistan's reparations files’, The Nation, available at: {https://www.thenation.com/article/blood-money-afghanistans-reparations-files/} accessed 25 June 2018.

10 GAO, ‘The Department of Defense's Use of Solatia and Condolence Payments in Iraq and Afghanistan’, available at: {https://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07699.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

11 Turse, ‘Blood money’.

12 Quoted in ibid.

13 Cora Currier, ‘Our condolences: How the U.S. paid for death and damage in Afghanistan’, The Intercept, available at: {https://theintercept.com/2015/02/27/payments-civilians-afghanistan/} accessed 25 June 2018.

14 Department of Defense, ‘Project Category – Condolence Payments’, available at: {https://www.usarcent.army.mil/Portals/1/FOIA/FY-12%20Condolence%20Payments.pdf?ver=2015-12-15-161250-050} accessed 25 June 2018.

15 Currier, ‘Our condolences’.

16 Department of Defense, ‘US Army Central FOIA Reading Room’, available at: {https://www.usarcent.army.mil/News/FOIA-Reading-Room/} accessed 25 June 2018.

17 Gilbert, Emily, ‘The gift of war: Cash, counterinsurgency, and “collateral damage”’, Security Dialogue, 46:5 (2015), p. 403. Not everyone would agree with this assessment. As Brigadier General Rich Gross, for example, argued that ‘I would really strongly push back on anybody who claimed that we would pay people off to avoid investigating war crimes’ (telephone interview, 31 January 2018).

18 Ibid., p. 416.

19 Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), ‘Addressing Civilian Harm in Afghanistan: Policies and Practices of International Forces’, available at: {https://civiliansinconflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Addressing_civilian_harm_white_paper_2010.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018. See also David Zucchino, ‘US addresses Iraqis' losses with payments’, Los Angeles Times, available at: {http://articles.latimes.com/2005/mar/10/world/fg-condolence10} accessed 25 June 2018 and Jonathan Tracy, ‘Testimony before the US Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Relations’, available at: {https://civiliansinconflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/2009_04_01_-State-_Testimony_of_Jonathan_Tracy_at_April_1_State_and_Foreign_Operations_Hearing.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

20 Carroll, Amanda and Schulzke, Marcus, ‘Compensating civilians during war: a place for individuals in international law’, Democracy and Security, 9:4 (2013); Bazargan-Forward, Saba, ‘Compensation and proportionality in war’, in Ohlin, Jens, May, Larry, and Finkelstein, Claire (eds), Weighing Lives in War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017); Holewinski, Sarah, ‘Making amends: a new expectation for civilian losses in armed conflict’, in Rothbart, Daniel, Korostelina, Karina, and Cherkaoui, Mohammad (eds), Civilians and Modern War: Armed Conflict and the Ideology of Violence (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012).

21 Crawford, Neta, Accountability for Killing: Moral Responsibility for Collateral Damage in America's Post-9/11 Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 85–6.

22 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), ‘McChrystal Tactical Directive’, available at: {https://www.nato.int/isaf/docu/official_texts/Tactical_Directive_090706.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

23 Walerstein, Jordan, ‘Coping with combat claims: an analysis of the Foreign Claims Act's combat exclusion’, Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, 11:3 (2009), p. 325.

24 Witt, John Fabian, ‘Form and substance in the law of counterinsurgency damages’, Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, 41:4 (2008), p. 1458.

25 Telephone interview with Jonathan Tracy, 26 January 2018.

26 Witt, ‘Form and substance in the law of counterinsurgency damages’, p. 1474.

27 Walerstein, ‘Coping with combat claims’, p. 338.

28 Carroll and Schulzke, ‘Compensating civilians during war’, p. 401. See also Kinsella, Helen, The Image Before the Weapon: A Critical History of the Distinction Between Combatant and Noncombatant (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011).

29 Walerstein, ‘Coping with combat claims’, pp. 321–4.

30 GAO, ‘Solatia and Condolence Payments’, p. 13.

33 Ibid. See also Crawford, Accountability for Killing, pp. 373–5.

34 Walerstein, ‘Coping with combat claims’, p. 333.

35 Quoted in ibid., p. 335.

36 Multi-National Corps Iraq (MNC-I), ‘Money as a Weapon System’, p. 87, available at: {https://info.publicintelligence.net/MAAWS%20Jan%2009.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

37 Ben Quinn, James Ball, and Mark Tran, ‘MoD pays £1.3m compensation to Afghans for death, injury and damage’, The Guardian, available at: {https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/mar/28/mod-compensation-to-afghans-increases} accessed 25 June 2018; ‘Afghanistan civilian compensation: the sums received from UK forces’, The Guardian, available at: {https://www.theguardian.com/world/datablog/2011/mar/28/afghanistan-civilian-compensation} accessed 25 June 2018.

38 Quoted in Quinn, Ball, and Tran, ‘MoD pays £1.3m’.

39 Nicholas Mercer, ‘The truth about British army abuses in Iraq must come out’, The Guardian, available at: {https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/03/british-army-abuses-iraq-compensation} accessed 25 June 2018.

40 Quoted in McMillan, Nesam, ‘The Tactical Payment Scheme: Configurations of life and death in the context of war’, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 23:3 (2012), p. 319.

41 Gilbert, ‘The gift of war’, p. 410. See also CIVIC, ‘Addressing Civilian Harm’, pp. 5–13.

42 Zucchino, ‘US addresses Iraqis' losses’.

43 Ibid. See also Carroll and Schulzke, ‘Compensating civilians during war’, p. 400.

44 Jeffrey Gettleman, ‘For Iraqis in harm's way, $5,000 and “I'm sorry”’, New York Times, available at: {https://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/17/world/for-iraqis-in-harm-s-way-5000-and-i-m-sorry.html} accessed 25 June 2018.

46 Witt, ‘Form and substance in the law of counterinsurgency damages’, pp. 1471–2. See also Karen Tackaberry, ‘Judge advocates play a major role in rebuilding Iraq’, The Army Lawyer (February 2004), pp. 39–43 and CIVIC, ‘Compensating Civilian Casualties’, pp. 5–7, 58, available at: {https://civiliansinconflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/compensating-civilian-casualties_nov_2008.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

47 Witt, ‘Form and substance in the law of counterinsurgency damages’, pp. 1472–3.

48 Ibid. See also CIVIC, ‘Compensating Civilian Casualties’, pp. 5–7.

49 Quoted in Zucchino, ‘U.S. addresses Iraqis' losses’.

50 CIVIC, ‘Addressing Civilian Harm’, p. 5. See also GAO, ‘Solatia and Condolence Payments’, p. 15.

51 Ibid., pp. 3–4.

52 Marine Corps, ‘Civil Affairs Detachment Operations in Support of Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan’, p. 3, available at: {https://info.publicintelligence.net/MCCLL-AfghanCA.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018. See also Walerstein, ‘Coping with combat claims’.

53 Tracy, ‘Testimony’.

54 CIVIC, ‘Ex-gratia Payments in Afghanistan’, available at: {https://civiliansinconflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/CIVIC_Exgratia_payments_2015_Brief.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

55 Ibid., p. 4.

56 Ibid., pp. 4–5.

57 CIVIC, ‘Compensating Civilian Casualties’.

58 Ibid., pp. 5–7.

59 Telephone interview with Jonathan Tracy. See also Adams, Katharine, ‘A permanent framework for condolence payments in armed conflict’, Military Law Review, 224:2 (2016), p. 318.

60 Quoted in Jones, Michael, ‘Consistency and equality: a framework for analyzing the “combat activities exclusion” of the Foreign Claims Act’, Military Law Review, 204:1 (2010), p. 157.

61 Witt, ‘Form and substance in the law of counterinsurgency damages’, p. 1477.

62 Adams, ‘A permanent framework for condolence payments in armed conflict’, p. 368.

63 CIVIC, ‘Addressing Civilian Harm’, p. 13.

64 Ibid., pp. 13–15.

65 Holewinski, ‘Making amends’, p. 317.

66 Ibid., p. 329. See also Sarah Holewinski, ‘Do less harm’, Foreign Affairs, available at: {https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2012-01-01/do-less-harm} accessed 25 June 2018.

67 Bazagan-Forward, ‘Compensation and proportionality in war’, p. 173.

68 Carroll and Schulzke, ‘Compensating civilians during war’; Schulzke, Marcus and Carroll, Amanda, ‘Corrective justice for the civilian victims of war’, Journal of International Relations and Development, 21:2 (2018); Schulzke, Marcus, Just War Theory and Civilian Casualties: Protecting the Victims of War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

69 Carroll and Schulzke, ‘Compensating civilians during war’, pp. 405–06; Schulzke, Just War Theory and Civilian Casualties, p. 159.

70 Schulzke and Carroll, ‘Corrective justice for the civilian victims of war’, p. 374.

71 Ibid., p. 391.

72 Schulzke, Just War Theory and Civilian Casualties, p. 210.

73 Schulzke and Carroll, ‘Corrective justice for the civilian victims of war’, p. 392.

74 CIVIC, ‘United States Military Compensation to Civilians in Armed Conflict’, available at: {https://civiliansinconflict.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/CENTER_Condolence_White_Paper_2010.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

75 McChrystal, Stanley, My Share of the Task (London: Penguin, 2014), p. 310.

76 Gilbert, ‘The gift of war’, p. 404.

77 Ibid., p. 405.

79 Ibid., p. 410.

80 Butler, Judith, Frames of War: When if Life Grievable? (London: Verso, 2009), p. 42. See also Gregory, Thomas, ‘Potential lives, impossible deaths: Afghanistan, civilian casualties and the politics of intelligibility’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 14:3 (2012), pp. 327–47; Purnell, Kandida, ‘Grieving, valuing, and viewing differently: the global war on terror's American toll’, International Political Sociology, 12:2 (2018).

81 Gilbert, ‘The gift of war’, p. 413.

82 Quoted in Ibid.

83 Tracy, ‘Testimony’.

84 Telephone interview with John Faull, 8 February 2018.

85 Quoted in Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, ‘The uncounted’, New York Times, available at: {https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/16/magazine/uncounted-civilian-casualties-iraq-airstrikes.html} accessed 25 June 2018.

86 Belcher, Oliver, ‘Anatomy of a village razing’, Political Geography, 62:1 (2018), pp. 101–02.

87 Gilbert, ‘The gift of war’, p. 412.

88 Ibid., p. 413.

89 Crawford, Accountability for Killing, pp. 20–1.

90 Quoted in Thom Shanker, ‘Rumsfeld calls civilian deaths relatively low’, New York Times, available at: {https://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/23/world/rumsfeld-calls-civilian-deaths-relatively-low.html} accessed 25 June 2018.

91 ISAF, ‘McKiernan Tactical Directive’, available at: {https://www.nato.int/isaf/docu/official_texts/Tactical_Directive_090114.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

93 Gregory, Thomas, ‘Dangerous feelings: Checkpoints and the perception of hostile intent’, Security Dialogue, 50:2 (2019), pp. 131–47. See also Crawford, Accountability for Killing, pp. 368–71.

94 Quoted in Crawford, Accountability for Killing, p. 82.

95 Gilmore, Jonathan, ‘A kinder, gentler counter-terrorism: Counterinsurgency, human security and the war on terror’, Security Dialogue, 42:1 (2011). See also Owen, Patricia, Economy of Force: Counterinsurgency and the Historical Rise of the Social (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

96 US Army/Marine Corps, Counterinsurgency Field Manual (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). See also Kilcullen, David, Counterinsurgency (London: Hurst and Company, 2010).

97 Ibid., pp. 34–7.

99 Ibid., p. xxv.

100 Ibid., pp. 48–51.

101 ISAF, ‘ISAF Commander's Counterinsurgency Guidance’, available at: {https://www.nato.int/isaf/docu/official_texts/counterinsurgency_guidance.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

102 ISAF, ‘Petraeus Tactical Directive’, available at: {http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/isafnewsrelease2.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

103 Adams, ‘A permanent framework for condolence payments in armed conflict’, pp. 347–9.

104 Leonard DeFrancisci, ‘Money as a force multiplier in COIN’, Military Review (May–June 2008), p. 23.

105 Joint Center for Operational Analysis (JCOA), ‘Reducing and Mitigating Civilian Casualties: Enduring Lessons’, p. 8, available at: {https://info.publicintelligence.net/JCOA-ReducingCIVCAS.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018. See also CALL, ‘Commander's Emergency Response Program’, available at: {https://info.publicintelligence.net/CERP-Handbook.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

106 CENTCOM, ‘Marines Continue Condolence Payments in Najaf’, available at: {https://www.globalsecurity.org/military//library/news/2004/10/mil-041006-centcom01.htm} accessed 25 June 2018.

107 US Army/Marine Corps, Counterinsurgency Field Manual, p. 360.

108 Marine Corps, ‘Civilian Casualty Mitigation’, p. 17, available at: {https://info.publicintelligence.net/USMC-CivilianCasualtiesMitigation.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

109 CALL, ‘Afghanistan Civilian Casualty Prevention Handbook’, p. 35, available at: {https://info.publicintelligence.net/CALL-AfghanCIVCAS.pdf} accessed 25 June 2008.

110 Ibid., p. 13.

111 Ibid., p.45, emphasis added. See also JCOA, ‘Reducing and Mitigating Civilian Casualties’.

112 Ibid., p. 46.

113 US Army, ‘Civilian Casualty Mitigation’, p. 11, available at: {https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/attp3-37-31.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

114 Ibid., pp. 39–40, emphasis added.

115 Ibid., p. 40.

116 Holewinski, ‘Making amends’, pp. 14–16.

117 Sarah Holewinski, ‘Fixing the collateral damage’, New York Times, available at: {https://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/07/opinion/07iht-edholewin.4828017.html} accessed 25 June 2018.

118 Telephone interview with General Sir Richard Shirreff, 9 February 2018.

119 Quoted in Open Society, ‘The Strategic Costs of Civilian Harm’, p. 47, available at: {https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/uploads/1168173f-13f9-4abf-9808-8a5ec0a9e4e2/strategic-costs-civilian-harm-20160622.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

120 US Army, ‘Civilian Casualty Mitigation’, p. 11. See also US Army, ‘Protection of Civilians’, available at: {https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/atp3-07-6.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

121 USFOR-A, ‘Money as a Weapon System’, available at: {https://info.publicintelligence.net/USFOR-A-MAAWS-2011.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

122 CALL, ‘Money as a Weapons System’.

123 Quoted in MNC-I, ‘Money as a Weapon System’, p. 4.

124 Ibid., p. 9.

125 Ibid., p. 87.

126 Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, ‘Lessons Learned on the Department of Defense's Commander's Emergency Response Program in Iraq’, p. 1, available at: {https://info.publicintelligence.net/SIGIR-IraqCERP.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

127 CALL, ‘Money as a Weapons System’, p. i.

128 USFOR-A, ‘Money as a Weapon System’, p. 4.

129 Ibid., p. 11.

130 Quoted in CALL, ‘Money as a Weapons System’, p. 1.

131 David Petraeus, ‘MNF-Iraq Commander's Counterinsurgency Guidance’, p. 3, available at: {https://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20081031_art004.pdf} accessed 25 June 2018.

132 US Army, ‘Protection of Civilians’, p. 64.

133 US Army, ‘Civilian Casualty Mitigation’, p. 37. See also telephone interview with Eric Tyson, 19 January 2018; telephone interview with Lt Gen. Bolger, 6 December 2017.

134 Zehfuss, Maja, War and the Politics of Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), p. 200.

135 Edkins, Jenny, Missing: Persons and Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016), p. 2.

136 Ibid., p. viii.

137 Edkins, Missing, p. viii.

138 Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Alexandra Zavis, ‘Civilian victims of U.S. coalition airstrike in Iraq dig up graves in desperate bid for compensation’, Los Angeles Times, available at: {https://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-iraq-airstrike-compensation-20171218-story.html} accessed 25 June 2018. See also Joanna Naples-Mitchell, ‘Condolence Payments for Civilian Casualties’, available at: {https://www.justsecurity.org/60482/condolence-payments-civilian-casualties-lessons-applying-ndaa/} accessed 3 July 2019; Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and Sana'a Center for Strategic Studies, ‘Out of the Shadows: Recommendations to Advance Transparency in the Use of Lethal Force’, available at: {https://www.outoftheshadowsreport.com/} accessed 25 June 2018; Amnesty International, ‘The US Hidden War in Somalia: Civilian Casualties from Air Strikes in Lower Shabelle’, available at: {https://www.amnestyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/The-Hidden-U.S.-War-in-Somalia.pdf} accessed 8 October 2019.

Keywords

The costs of war: Condolence payments and the politics of killing civilians

  • Thomas Gregory (a1)

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